The Down Side of Private Child Support Enforcement Agencies
When I first wrote about child support enforcement agencies, my advice was to think long and hard before relying upon one to collect back child support. In some cases, depending upon how much you are owed, the fees for collection by a child support enforcement agency can be as expensive as those charged by an attorney. Despite this, I had researched several agencies, and while I neither endorsed or discredited any of them, SupportKids seemed to stand out from the rest. It continues to do so, but not for the reasons I originally thought.
Recently one of the readers of Single Parents at Bella Online wrote me to say that she had signed a contract with Support Kids, Inc. and, after several very unsatisfactory months and several miscommunications, she was desperate to find a way out of the contract. I began my research…
The Support Kids web site is very up-front about the fact that they take their fees from payments received; however, they do not openly disclose the amount of those fees on their web site. (Fees range from 25% to 34% of payments received, depending upon the service for which your case qualifies.) They are not, however, up-front about the fact that they charge an initial $375 Case Development Fee that is to be taken out of the first payment collected. In fact, in their response to my email, they state: “The contingency-based fees for this service are a Case Development Fee of $375 and an ongoing fee of 34% of each subsequent payment.” This is followed, two paragraphs later by a closing statement of, “There are no fees to open a case with us and you’ll never have any out of pocket expenses.”
Hmmm…The Case Development Fee seems sneakily like a fee to open the case to me. True, it is not an out of pocket fee, but it is, by their own words, a “contingency-based fee for this service.”
Furthermore, when our reader called Support Kids to see if she could cancel her contract, she was told that this was impossible. I spoke with someone at Support Kids and was told that there was only three ways to cancel a contract with them. Specifically, “A case with SupportKids, Inc. can be terminated in three ways: 1) SupportKids collected the Specified Amount; 2) You notify SupportKids in writing within seven (7) days of your signing the agreement that you wish to end the agreement; or, 3) if 12 consecutive months pass during which no payments have been collected or received directly from the NCP and you notify SupportKids in writing that you wish to end this agreement. You cannot end this agreement if SupportKids has had a lien placed against NCP’s property or has hired an attorney for me.”
I would like to note here that when they state that the contract can be cancelled if there are no payments for 12 consecutive months, they do not mean "full" payments. Instead, they are referring to "any" payment. For example, if the payment is only $100 instead of the $350 agreed upon, it is still considered a payment and the contract cannot be cancelled.
Our reader received two small payments from Support Kids: one from which the $375 processing fee was deducted and one minimal payment which amounted to less that $100 once the 34% was deducted. She states that she was never aware of the $375 or the clause(s) referring to cancellation of the contract. After Support Kids insisted this information is in the contract, I had the reader go back and check her contract for the information. She did and confirmed it was stated there.
Finally, the address on your child support account with the Family Courts will be changed to that of Support Kids. Any checks that are sent directly to the Court will be forwarded to Support Kids before they are sent to you. This accomplishes two purposes - to delay the time it takes for you to receive much needed funds and to allow Support Kids to collect their percentage.
All of this brings me to a piece of advice and a word of caution, both of which I will stress strongly.
Advice: Always read a contract before you sign it! I know that there is usually a person standing over you saying, "Sign here…and here…and here…" Usually they even tell you, "this paragraph is just giving us permission to…No need to read that!" Stop! If they tell you there is no reason to read it, then you better read it twice. Again I say, Never sign a contract before reading it! If there is anything that you don't understand, ask questions. If you do not receive the answer that you need from the entity in which you are entering into the contract, then solicit an outside party to assist in answering your questions. Do not sign anything unless you are certain what it contains and how it affects you.
Caution: There is no reason to “hide” information from a consumer unless the company with which you are dealing is in fear that the information will decrease their customer base. How many of you would consider working with a company that told you up-front that their services for collecting your child support were going to cost you $375 plus 34% of every payment until your arrears were collected? I wouldn’t. By hiding that information and “playing up” their success stories and their “advantages”, they convince people in need to apply for their services before knowing the entire truth about how the deal works. Once you are into the process with one of their sales people in tow, it is a lot harder to back out. I filed an interest and requested an application. Even after I stated that I was not interested in their service, their salesperson called me at home and at work on several occasions to see if I had changed my mind.
My final words on child support agencies are - don't do it. When I spoke with Support Kids and explained why their answers were not satisfactory for me as a method for collecting child support arrearages, they very bluntly replied that "66% was better than 0%" and that they would expect to hear back from me "when you get tired of not getting your support and want someone to agressively pursue your case..." As a single mother of two in need of that court-ordered child support, I am always serious when it comes to money. Serious enough to know that if I am willing to pay what they ask for them to collect it for me then I must not need it very badly in the first place. I hope they hold their breath, because they will not hear from me at all!
I wish that I could have helped our reader find a way out of the contract that she signed with Support Kids; however, what I have suggested that she do is consult an attorney with a copy of her contract in tow. Even then, there are no guarantees. I will be hoping that there will be something they can do to help her. As for the rest of you, I know that child support issues are a terrible pain and that being a single parent is never easy. Despite this, always remind yourself that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
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